Social change can happen quickly. The system suddenly snaps to a different stable state. The speed of change is counter-intuitive: we expect social change to be slow and steady, but it actually often proceeds in sudden jumps. The dissolution of the Soviet Union would be an example.
Gladwell calls a sudden social change the "tipping point," a term he borrowed from epidemiology. It's the point at which an epidemic takes off, moves from an arithmetical progression to a geometrical one, because the number of carriers has reached critical mass. The graph line suddenly shoots upward. Only Gladwell is writing about social epidemics. Ideas, he says, are contagious.
1. "The Law of the Few" - A few people do most of the idea spreading, because they are much better at it than others. These are the people you want to recruit to spread your message. The 80/20 principle says that 20 percent of the people cause 80 percent of the effects. But with epidemics it's even more extreme - fewer carriers. "Social epidemics... are driven by... a handful of exceptional people... . It's things like how sociable they are, or how energetic or knowledgeable or influential among their peers." (Also see the novel Bellwether by Connie Willis.)
· "Mavens" are curious and detail-oriented, to the point, compared to the rest of us, of obsession. They love to gather and pass on information. Lots of them on the Internet.
· "Connecters" link us to other people.
· "Salesmen" are the persuaders.
2. The "Stickiness Factor" - A message has to be memorable, contagious, move us to action. "There are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes."
3. The "Power of Context" - "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur." Small changes in context can cause large changes in behavior, so we should focus on little things in the community, like graffiti, that we can easily change.
Gladwell writes that the way we "function and communicate and process information is messy and opaque... . Social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable." So you have to test to see if your attempt to start a social epidemic is working, measure results.
Timing is important: "Tipping Points are moments of great sensitivity. Changes made right at the Tipping Point can have enormous consequences."
The American left has often been accused of "preaching to the choir," but maybe that makes sense if the "choir" is made up of active transmitters and not just passive receivers, like most Americans.
Where do you find these people? I would look for people who are already activists, reporters, teachers, ministers, politicians, etc. Tell them you don't expect them to join your group or spend a lot of time on it, just pass the message on when they can. Give them simple materials they can use, a stack of brochures with website address. Speakers they can invite to meetings or neighborhood coffees. The message should include some simple, easy action people can take - go to the website and use a form to send a message to a politician. Build up an email list, and use it sparingly.